Making a difference: 21 Administrators in African Universities Set Out to Make Change

A few years ago, the ACU partnered with the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA) to develop and design a course which allows administrators to exchange experience, consider real-life examples, and encourage the development of innovative solutions. This became known as the Administrative Staff Training Initiative and was piloted in June 2015.

With a successful first year, the ACU decided to return to the idea in 2017 and the Course in University Administrative Practice was born.

Dr Ian Willis from the University of Liverpool, reflects upon the experience.

ACU banner

Mid-level administrators in African universities are often qualified at Masters Level and are energetic and capable. Yet they can be viewed as little more than low-level clerks with no place to contribute to innovation or efficiency; and rarely do they have the opportunity for professional development.

The Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) has long recognised that these mid-level administrators are undervalued and there are great opportunities for these staff to make a valued contribution to administration processes in support of learning and teaching students and academics through projects that improve administrative processes.

The ACU’s pilot programme in London in 2015 was very successful, having delivered many change projects. For example: dramatically improving the regulation student accommodation, introducing systematic evaluation of teaching, shifting committee reporting from paper to electronic and introducing staff training on a variety of issues.

But now it was time for the programme to be run in Africa. The University of Ibadan, Nigeria stepped forward to host the second offering in August 2017. The University of Ibadan is Nigeria’s oldest university (established in 1948) and describes itself as, “the first and the best”, one of its missions being “to contribute to the transformation of society through creativity and innovation.” So this year’s challenge was to apply that aspiration to its own administrative systems.


Admins at UOIAdministrators and facilitators at the University of Ibadan. 

The programme attracted participants from the University of Ibadan and other Nigerian universities as well as those from Ghana, Malawi and Sierra Leone. This year’s programme was designed, delivered and facilitated by Dr Ian Willis (Centre for Higher Education Studies, University of Liverpool), and Dr Brian Jennings (Ghana Christian University College).

Research and evaluation of the 2015 event identified key factors in its success, including the overall three phase programme design:

  1. An initial phase that required that participants were selected by their Vice – Chancellor (or nominee) and that they did some basic analysis of their institutions and the strengths of their teams.
  2. The workshop phase. This covered input on aspects of university life including general learning and teaching approaches, use of technology and the importance of critical reflection. It was equally concerned with project development that had a distinctive ‘Strengths-Based approach’. At the end of the week participants are given the opportunity to present their project proposals for peer review.
  3. The project phase. On return to their institutions, it is time for action. With structured support, the administrators have to get on with their projects, against a three month deadline. This is authentic assessment in action!

 Participants at UOI21 participants working on the project development stage – very successfully. 

We are currently in the midst of the programme, having successfully implemented phases 1 and 2.

The workshop was a practical, hands-on event where participants were fully engaged throughout. It was a delight to experience the enthusiasm, energy and commitment from the group. We had many comments that it was ‘very notable and unusual’ to experience an Active Learning approach in an African context. 'This kept the energy levels and interest of participants sustained throughout the duration of the workshop. Participants enthusiasm peaked as the workshop progressed’.

So clearly, phase 1 and 2 of this African based mission to effect change in administrative systems have been successful. It is phase 3 that will really tell the story, but right now we could not ask for anything more. We wait to see the differences that 21 mid-level administrators in African Universities will make as they set out to make change.

A few final points to note. Changing administrative systems is a challenge anywhere; more so for mid-level staff, but all gains will be welcomed. Certificates are only awarded to projects that have been carried out (degrees of success may vary) and with accompanying critical reflection on success or otherwise and on the learning gained. We received wonderful support from senior staff and administrative staff at ACU and University of Ibadan - thank you.

Last modified on 02/07/2018